Alan Ball was known for his masterful use of music in Six Feet Under. He's lost none of his touch when it comes to his current HBO series, True Blood - which happens to be set in the Louisiana swamps, not terribly far from Houston.
What is a soul and, more importantly in this rough economic time, what exactly is it worth?
There's plenty going on in True Blood right now. Jason has to deal with the fact that he's been raped, and who does that make him now? Tara has been living life as a lesbian cage fighter from Atlanta; now that her New Orleans girlfriend has found out, she must choose which reality she will inhabit. Most importantly, Eric, who in his amnesia has been stripped of everything, is forced to hear repeated testimony of acts that to a stranger, as he is to himself, sound monstrous and unholy.
Only the affection and faith of Sookie, who herself is torn between her feelings for the vulnerable vampire and her remembrance of pain suffered either at his hands or because of his actions, keeps him moving forward. He spends most of the episode exploring his emptiness.
It's peaceful, but it's not soon to last as his progeny Pam accidentally lets slip that she knows he is hiding at Sookie's to former Sookie love interest turned vampire king Bill Compton, who rushes off to confront her. It's a deal with the devil for Pam, who is attempting to save herself from a spell causing her flesh to rot that was cast by this season's big bad, Marnie.
Deals with the devil should make all music fans think of the one and only bluesman Robert Johnson.
Johnson is part of the 27 club, a group of musicians who died at that young age, and which Amy Winehouse just joined. Details on his nomadic life are sketchy, but his recordings' influence on generations of blues musicians is undeniable. The most enduring aspect of the man, aside from his talent, is the fact that he sold his soul to Satan for that talent.
They call it a legend because, well, the world is a needlessly boring place, but Johnson woke in the middle of the night and was compelled to a crossroad, where Satan himself taught him to play the blues in exchange for his immortal soul. Some claim that this was not the Christian devil, but instead the African trickster god Legba. This seems like splitting hairs to us, since by definition all other gods are demons in the eyes of Christ.
Johnson was poisoned for flirting with another man's woman in 1938.
His song, "Me and the Devil" was picked up and ran with by the late Gil Scott-Heron in 2010 on his album I'm New Here. Scott-Heron is known for two things. First, he did a lot of cocaine. Seriously guys, he did a LOT of cocaine.
Scott-Heron, who died in May at age 62, was also known for being an amazing spoken-word poet and musician throughout his life. There is just not enough time to go into how thought-provoking and ground-breaking he was in the rest of this article, but we'll ask you this: Ever heard the phrase, "The revolution will not be televised?" Scott-Heron coined it. His body of work is so worth downloading that we honestly wish you'd skip the rest of this article and do so.
I'm New Here was his last album and first in 16 years. Its stripped-down, modern approach to the blues at first made us believe that someone had just done a fantastic remix of Johnson's recording just like King Britt did of Sister Gertrude's "I've Got a New World in my View" on a previous True Blood episode. Nope, it's all Scott-Heron, and it's all amazing.
The title of this week's episode, "Me and the Devil" comes from a man who may or, in a remote possibility, may not have actually gotten good price for that pesky soul of his in the form of another kind of immortality. In the end, questioning what choices have done to you as a person is the very road to salvation.
We don't believe that any person, bluesman, or fictional character is damned forever. Jason will survive his ordeal, Tara will come to terms with what is a fantasy and what is a reality, and Eric will regain his memories and be forced to choose between who he was and who he could've been.
That search is what defines a whole person. That search is your soul. Giving it away is just one more choice, one more word in a very long definition, one note in the song. We think it doesn't matter whether Johnson is watching what's going on in Bon Temps from above or below. What matters is that he approves, because the blessing of the blues is the sanctification of suffering.
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See you at the crossroads.
Be sure to visit the Loving True Blood in Dallas blog, where Jef With One F will be a semi-regular contributor to the podcast this season.